The Original Rules of Golf
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers wrote the first rules of golf in 1744 (McCord). Their sheet of rules contained only 13 articles, many of which are still used today with little or no change (McHugh). Those rules laid the foundation upon which modern golf evolved. Below are the original 13 rules of golf (Hutchinson).
- You must tee your ball within a club's length of the hole.
- Your tee must be upon the ground.
- You are not to change the ball, which you strike off the tee.
- You are not to remove stones, bones or any break club, for the sake of playing your ball except upon the fair green, and that's only within a club's length of your ball.
- If your ball comes among water, or any watery filth, you are at liberty to take out your ball and bring it behind the hazard and tee it, you may play it with any club and allow your adversary a stroke, for so getting out your ball.
- If your balls be found anywhere touching one another you are to lift the first ball, till you play the last.
- At holling, you are to play your ball honestly for the hole, and not to play upon your adversary's ball, not lying in your way to the hole.
- If you should lose your ball, by it's being taken up, or any other way, you are to go back to the spot where you struck last and drop another ball, and allow your adversary a stroke for the misfortune.
- No man at holling his ball is to be allowed to mark his way to the hole with his club or anything else.
- If a ball be stopp'd by any person, horse, dog or anything else, the ball so stopp'd must be play'd where it lyes.
- If you draw your club in order to strike and proceed so far in stroke as to be bringing down your club; if then, your club shall break in any way, it is to be accounted a stroke.
- He whose ball lyes farthest from the hole is obliged to play first.
- Neither trench, ditch or dyke, made for the preservation of the links, nor the scholar's holes, or the soldier's lines, shall be accounted a hazard; but the ball is to be taken out, teed and play'd with any iron club.
Current Rules of Golf
As time progressed and the game of golf grew and spread, there were more and more disputes and arguments over the rules of golf. That led to the creation of more rules and the revision of old rules of golf. Ever since 1952 the United States Golf Association and the R&A of St. Andrews, Scotland have jointly managed the official rules of golf. The two groups have set the standards for not only how the game should be played, but also what equipment is allowed. The R&A and USGA determine everything having to do with the rules of golf, from ball weight and club head size to hole width and hazard penalties.
Both organizations receive thousands of complaints and suggestions every year about how to improve and clarify the rules of golf. In response to the immense need for more and better rules, the two organizations publish official rule changes every four years ("Change to the Rules of Golf"). In addition, official interpretations of rules are published in the rules of golf Decisions book every two years. The Decisions book has over 1,200 golf rules decisions to help clarify in example format how to apply golf rules ("Change to the Rules of Golf"). If you would like to view the complete and official rules of golf, you can see them on the USGA Web site, http://www.usga.org/playing/rules/rules_of_golf.html.
The rules of golf are based on equity, honor and fairness, and throughout the many sections, articles, appendices, indexes and decisions, you will see those common themes. Themes that were present in the game of golf well before they were first written down in 1744. Without a strong adherence to equity, honesty and fairness, and the rules that have come from them, golf wouldn't be the sport it is today. So, the next time you're considering using your shoe wedge or an erasure to save a stroke or two, remember that disregarding the rules of golf is disregarding hundreds of years of tradition, equity, honor and fairness. Is that really worth one stroke?